More musings this week on Confucius’s final and futile audience with his ruler Duke Ai. I can’t help but wonder whether the biggest single weakness of Confucius as both a politician and a philosopher was his stubborn insistence on the idea of restoring the Zhou dynasty operating model to its former glories.
This was already well past being fit for purpose by his lifetime, and it had descended into such levels of violence and chaos that no amount of persuasion from Confucius or anyone else would have been enough to save it. It is not as if the rulers of Lu or any of the other states would have had the strength or the resources to implement Confucius’s brand of morality-based leadership even if they had any inclination to do so. Like Duke Ai, they were too busy struggling to preserve what little power they still possessed against both internal and external threats.
Given the obvious lack of support he received for his ideas from the ruling class, it is tempting to speculate whether Confucius ever seriously considered going it alone by leading his own movement to restore the greatness of the Zhou. He would of course have seen this as a heretical step, so the answer is probably no. On the other hand, there were occasions when he was tempted to throw his lot in with some unsavory characters like Yang Huo and Gongshan Furao. He even went so far as to tell Zilu in 17.5 that if the latter were to employ him, “perhaps I could establish a new Zhou dynasty in the East.”
Given that nothing came of that idea or indeed any of his attempts to persuade the rulers he visited to adopt his path, it is hard not to conclude that Confucius died a disappointed man.
To make it easier to find the profiles I have written of contemporary and historical figures in the Analects, I have put together two lists of links in these articles here. I will keep on adding to these when I finally make it out of Book 14.